I've spent five weeks so far this year in Alaska, which in part accounts for my absence from blogging. I spent three weeks in Juneau, one in Kenai, and one in Anchorage. That's a tiny sample of our largest state, which has more coastline than all the rest of the country combined, and more land mass than Texas, California and Montana put together. But some points stand out.
No, you can't see Russia.
Sarah Palin is not particularly welcome to return.
They know their coffee (dark roast, wickedly strong). And their beer (full-bodied, heavy on the hops, perhaps flavored with spruce tips).
You can't throw a rock in Anchorage without hitting a Thai restaurant or a coffee hut. This is fine with me.
It's not cold -- not in Southeast Alaska, where I went about most days in February and March without a coat, or in oceanside Anchorage, which was brown and wet at the end of April. I lived over a dozen years in Minnesota, so I know about cold. I also know that the interior and the north slope are a different story.
There are wild and even dangerous parts, but Juneau, Anchorage and Kenai all have Walmart. Everywhere I went, I saw people browsing the Internet on Android and iPhones. Yet something like half the households don't have indoor toilets.
Alaska is on the front lines of the battle between a love of nature and the demands of industry. It's John Muir meets John D. Rockefeller. The Kenai airport has a huge Alaskan brown bear, stuffed, on display in the waiting area. And a giant, highly detailed model of an offshore oil rig.
Nothing illustrates the human capacity for creative self-deception better than the Alaskan individualist, bravely facing the wilderness, ranting against the gummint in general and especially the Internal Revenue Service, and sucking up Permanent Fund benefits. In fact, Alaska is one giant socialist enterprise, established in the late 1950s specifically to tax corporations that were carting off natural resources, directing the proceeds to the benefit of the citizenry.
Its greatest so-called conservative Republican senator, the late Ted Stevens, was the best pork-barrel politician in U.S. history.
Its contradictions only serve to make it even more lovely. I'd go back at the first chance.